I had a few different business ideas and had a hard time deciding on one.  I think I’ve finally made a pretty good decision with the one I’ve sent to Lou.  I’ll decide whether to go forward with this one after I get some feedback.

Discarded ideas:

  • Mobile device app that is programmed with technology similar to Midomi or Shazam, but instead of listening to music to identify the song, listens to your car’s engine to identify possible problems.  People often wonder why their car “is making that sound.”  This can tell you why, and a lot more cheaply and conveniently than a mechanic can.  (I’ve found some open source development software that I think I can work with.  I’m pretty sure I really could do this, but I’m working on a different idea for now.)
  • Mobile device app that scrapes publicly-available information from the Web to learn TV show schedules and is programmed with the start time and duration of commercial breaks (typically around 120 seconds).  A countdown timer lets you skip the commercials and know how much time you have left to get back from the kitchen or bathroom.  (The difficulty: TV show start and end times are easily available, but the times and timings of commercial breaks are not.  No TV network would ever want something like this to work.)
  • What if you started a lawn care business and bought one or two of those Roomba-like robotic lawnmowers and used them to speed up the time to finish each job?  (Unfortunately, Honda’s Miimo probably doesn’t work very well… And it’s not even for sale yet.  And when it is, at first it’ll only be in Europe.)

Jill Miller’s and Lou’s advice was to pursue the most realistic idea.  It’s important to not just have an idea, but to know how to implement it.

Jill also advises having more than one revenue stream.  If one of your revenue streams dries up, it’s important to be able to turn to the other.

In his Both Sides of the Table blog, Mark Suster lists 12 traits successful entrepreneurs have.  One of them is competitiveness.  Suster says it’s a trait that all venture capitalists look for in entrepreneurs.  He cites the dog-eat-dog competitive nature of the business world, and quotes baseball coach Leo Durocher: “Nice guys finish last.”  He’s careful to say that even though successful businessmen will take any chance to improve their own position and undercut their competitors, of course they must stay within legal boundaries.  However, I disagree with the way he approvingly repeats the quotation, “How you play is for college ball.  When you’re playing for money, winning is the only thing that matters.”  I don’t think so.  “How you play”—a reference to the phrase “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”—is fundamental.  A business must stick not only to legal principles, but moral principles.

Two other important traits he lists are tenacity and willingness to accept risk.  Tenacity he calls the most important trait.  This matches up with what CJ Lett said: “I’ve never seen an idea that wouldn’t work if you didn’t give up on it.”  That may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s still good advice.  Many things that have turned out to be useful—flying machines and the light bulb, for instance—have appeared to be unworkable at first.

Lastly, willingness to accept risk is essential to a successful entrepreneur.  Suster’s advice here is actually pretty good advice even outside of business: A person in pretty much any situation should operate under the confident assumption that he’ll find his way through.  “Entrepreneurs are inherently risk takers. Not wild speculators, but pragmatic risk takers who have a blind belief that they will find a way to make things work.”  I like that.

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